The Massachusetts women’s basketball team lost 78-69 to Central Connecticut State on Tuesday in an out-of-conference matchup that kicked off the team’s early season road schedule.
Sophomore guard Emily Mital led the Minutewomen offensively, collecting a career-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including six makes from beyond the 3-point line.
On the heels of its 30-point win over Kent State on Saturday, UMass (1-1, 0-0 Atlantic 10) failed to put together the same type of dominant, wire-to-wire performance that made victory in the season opener all but a forgone conclusion. Instead, UMass coach Sharon Dawley found her team locked in a back-and-forth struggle of streaky play punctuated by untimely turnovers.
The Blue Devils (2-0, 0-0 Northeast Conference), themselves riding high on the emotion of a 54-47 overtime victory of Rhode Island, seized the game’s early momentum with a 13-4 run led by nine points from the team’s leading scorer, senior guard Jaclyn Babe.
Babe, whose younger sister Jessica also starts at guard for Central Connecticut, finished the night with a game-high 36 points and drew praise from Dawley after the game for her scoring prowess.
UMass played all but one of the 20 first half minutes without senior center Jasmine Watson, who only a few days had before found herself the center of conference attention after notching her 1,000th career point and garnering A-10 Player of the Week honors, but was hit with two early fouls on Tuesday and spent the remainder of the half on the bench.
“Not having Jasmine out there was huge,” Dawley said.
Buoyed in the wake of Watson’s absence by the continued shooting success of sophomore guard Emily Mital, whose 22 points marked the second career high in as many games for the team’s early candidate for breakout star, UMass responded with a scoring streak of its own, reclaiming a 14-13 lead by the middle of the first half.
The Minutewomen battled to keep pace with the hot-shooting Babe, but entered halftime on the wrong side of a 10-point, 32-22 deficit.
Dawley said she and her staff did not draw up any drastic second half adjustments, instead feeling compelled to let the Minutewomen’s shooting woes work themselves out.
Watson responded in force in the second half, scoring 14 points, blocking five shots and collecting 10 rebounds for her 14th career double-double. Freshman forward Rashida Timbilla, whose play has been a bright spot for the team, also pulled down 10 boards in the game.
Three-point specialist Mital caught fire once more in the second half, knocking down four more shots from beyond the arc and spurred UMass to a 24-7 run in the first eight minutes after the break.
But the inspired play of Babe, along with 16 points from sophomore guard Kaley Watras helped the Blue Devils claw their way back.
UMass led by as many as seven in the second half, but was eventually done in by poor free-throw shooting (9-of-18) and sloppy passing, the latter of which also plagued the team in its opener.
“We didn’t take care of the ball,” Dawley said. “We ended up with 28 turnovers. Some were pretty costly, not only when but where the turnovers were. I think they got a lot of transition points off our turnovers.”
Senior guard Dee Montgomery fouled out late in the second half as the Minutewomen attempted to extend the game via free throws, but Central Connecticut, which shot 91.3 percent from the line, iced the contest in the waning moments.
Dawley, who said Tuesday’s loss and the opening win over Kent State were “like apples and oranges,” couldn’t compare the emotion of the two games.
Nola Henry led all UMass scorers off the bench, hitting 4-of-8 shots and a free throw for nine points. Before fouling out, Montgomery totaled five points and five assists.
UMass returns home to Amherst on Friday to take on Quinnipiac at the Mullins Center at 7 p.m.
Daniel Malone can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.